What I want to say is that Weird Al is a national treasure. His music is a timeless mirror held up to what's popular in America. He pokes silly, food-shaped holes in everything we hold dear. We're a country who takes everything we do far too seriously, and Al Yankovic is the one person with permission to mock us relentlessly at every turn.
Saying all that serious, heavy-handed muck might suck all the fun out of a hilarious album, but the record is indeed a dichotomy. Mandatory Fun is zany, wacky, screwball, and overall weird, but it's also expertly executed, criminally brilliant, and extremely pointed. It's equal parts non sequitur and self-aware.
The album wouldn't be complete without a few easy gets. "Tacky," Yankovic's sendup of Pharrell's "Happy," is a clever mockery of the song itself, with biting shots taken at name droppers, rude friends, and Ed Hardy enthusiasts. "Word Crimes" -- a parody of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" -- could have gone down a dark road considering the source material, but Al chose to lampoon the linguistic dumbing-down of our society. Lorde's "Royals" gets the goofiest treatment of all, with "Foil" telling a story of the Illuminati, aliens, and tinfoil hats. "Inactive" is Imagine Dragons' soaring "Radioactive" set to lyrics about lounging about all day. Written on paper, those songs say that Americans nowadays are socially inept, verbally stunted, psychotically self-centered, and lazy, but when Weird Al sings about us, it's fall-out-of-your-chair, embarrass-yourself-at-work funny.
His trademark medley of polka covers shines as well, taking the piss out of 11 of the most obnoxiously ever-present songs of the past few years. "Wrecking Ball," "Get Lucky," "Gangnam Style," and "Somebody That I Used to Know" are still earworms, but the lilt of Al's accordion and the sarcasm dripping from his voice transform them into something better. Something hilarious. Something weird.
The parodist goes outside of his typical range, mimicking the styles of Foo Fighters, Southern Culture on The Skids, and Crosby, Stills & Nash. The CSN-style "Mission Statement" is one of the most accurate depictions of corporate pseudo-speak bullshit, with lines like "Can you visualize a value-added experience that will grow the business infrastructure and monetize our assets?" The Pixies get an homage in the rockin' "First World Problems," a track which probably strikes way too close to home for people who grew up loving Surfer Rosa.
The record closes with the sprawling 9-minute "Jackson Park Express," a Cat Stevens-inspired tune that follows a bus ride romance which takes place entirely inside the mind of our protagonist. They never speak, but Yankovic extrapolates profound meaning from each tiny glance. Strip away the silly lyrics, and it's a pretty deep song, which is a pretty good metaphor for the record on the whole.
A good Weird Al album isn't simply an album of covers with lyrics about corn swapped in. It is a time and place in America -- a unique satirization of our society and culture -- and Mandatory Fun is a prime example of this. Each song lampoons at least two distinct things: the original tune itself, and whichever subject Al decides to dissect.
Perhaps all this is taking too seriously a record which contains the line "I saw a mime get hacked to death with an imaginary cleaver," but Mandatory Fun is a perfect caricature of the modern world and we Americans take our parody seriously.
You can buy Mandatory Fun at Amazon. To celebrate the release of the record, Yankovic is releasing 8 videos over the course of 8 days, so be sure to watch the already released clips for "Tacky," "Word Crimes," and "Foil." For more music, news, videos, and upcoming concert dates, check out Al's Zumic artist page.